Death with Dignity

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For more than three decades, interest in improving the care of dying patients has progressed from being the concern of a few health care professionals to being a widespread social concern. Despite this attention, a 'good death' remains more a hope than standard medical practice for all patients.The ethics of physician assisted suicide continue to be debated. Some argue that Physician assisted suicide is ethically permissible. Often this is argued on the grounds that PAS, ( physician assisted suicide) may be a rational choice for a dying person who is choosing to escape unbearable suffering at the end of life. Furthermore, the physician's duty to alleviate suffering may, at times, justify providing aid-in-dying. These arguments rely a great deal on respect for individual autonomy, recognizing the right of competent people to choose the timing and manner of death in the face of a terminal illness. Others have argued that PAS is not ethically permissible, because PAS runs directly counter to the traditional duty of the physician to preserve life and to do no harm which, falls in the medical category of Hippocratic Oath. Furthermore, many argue if this were legal, abuses would take place, as the social forces that condone the practice are a slippery slope that could lead to euthanasia. For instance, the disabled, poor or elderly might be covertly pressured to choose PAS over more complex and expensive care options. Mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives when they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain, when their quality of life is personally unacceptable, and the future holds only hopelessness and misery. Such a right shall be an individual choice, including the timing and companion, free of any restrictions by the law, medical profession, even friends and relatives no matter how well-intentioned. Physician assisted suicide should be a legal option for the terminally ill patients whom have no other remedy of salvaging their lives with means of medicine. This will allow them to dye with dignity and painless suffering.

Much of the controversy surrounding physician assisted suicide focuses on the debate over wether the practice should be legalized. Oregon and Washington are the only states in which physician assisted suicide is legal. In 1994, voters in that state approved a referendum called the Death with Dignity Act, which was enacted in 1997. This law allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to mentally competent, terminally ill patients to use to hasten their own deaths. Between 1998 and 2000, ninety-six lethal prescriptions were written, and seventy patients took the fatal doses. In the rest of the country, the practice remains illegal. Supporters of legalization believe that terminally ill individuals have the right to end their own lives in some instances. Because it is illegal in most states, they maintain, many patients are unable to get the help necessary to end their lives and must involuntarily endure extreme pain and suffering. Also many supporters believe it should be legalized for the purpose of regulation. Many believe that in spite of the current law, the practice is conducted regularly in secrecy; therefore, the potential for abuse already exists. “Legalization, with medical record documentation and reporting requirements, will enable authorities to regulate the practice and guard against abuses, while punishing the real offenders” ( Smith, Hemlock Society). On the other hand, opponents of physician assisted suicide argue that widespread legalization would cause abuse rather than reduce or control it. Legalized assisted suicide would lead to deaths of patients who do not really wish to die. For example, influential doctors or family members, unrestricted by law, may persuade patients to choose death or that greedy insurance companies may pressure doctors to control insurance costs by ending lives prematurely. Laws against assisted suicide...
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